Bodhicitta is the Enlightened Mind, the Mind of Love. The Bodhisattva Vow is to serve all beings, to help all beings be happy and free from suffering. The Bodhisattva puts the happiness and liberation of all beings ahead of his or her own happiness and liberation. That is Bodhicitta, the Enlightened Mind.
Most of us seek happiness, peace, love and enlightenment for ourselves. We want to be happy, at peace and loved. We want to be free from suffering. We want to be enlightened. Many search their entire lifetime for this. I have students who have spent years living in ashrams and monasteries, studying with many teachers, reading every spiritual book they could get their hands on. Yet they are still not awake. They still suffer. They have not found the fundamental happiness, peace, love and freedom that is their True Nature.
When we seek for ourselves, we always end up frustrated. That is the nature of the separate self, the I, me and mine. The approach of Bodhicitta is the opposite. Bodhicitta is already the awakened mind. Yet before we fully realize this Enlightened Mind, which is our True Nature, we can practice living this way. To practice living this way, we practice Bodhicitta.
Instead of desiring happiness, peace, love, freedom from suffering and enlightenment for ourselves, we change our attitude to desiring it for others. We desire, happiness, peace, love, freedom and enlightenment for all beings. This is a fundamental change from the way we have been conditioned to seek for ourselves.
Tonglen is a powerful spiritual practice that comes from Tibetan Buddhism. Tonglen is a practice of Bodhicitta. Say you have the flu. You have a headache and your entire body aches. You’re tired and weak. You have a fever. Your throat is so sore you can’t speak. You feel miserable. You’re suffering. You may not realize it, but this suffering doesn’t actually come from the flu symptoms. It comes from your attention on I, me, mine. “I’m miserable. I’m weak. I’m in pain.” That’s why you feel so miserable.
The practice of Tonglen turns all of your conditioned thinking upside down, and with it your suffering. Instead of focusing all your attention on how miserable you feel, you turn your attention to other beings. There are seven billion humans on this planet. Certainly some of them must also be experiencing these same flu symptoms right at this very moment. And some may be experiencing them worse than you are. Some with weakened immune systems or who are elderly may even be dying from them. Let your attention go to them. Breath in your awareness of these other beings. As you breath out, send healing energy to all of them. Your entire mind, heart and being focuses fully on their healing. Breath in all their illness and suffering. Breath out healing to all of them.
As you continue doing this, bring your awareness to beings who are suffering in other ways. Not everyone is suffering from the flu, but many are suffering. Some have just lost a spouse or child. Some are dying alone in a hospital bed. Many beings are suffering. Breath in their suffering and send out healing to all of them. Humans are not the only beings who are suffering. Some factory farms keep animals confined their entire life in unnatural ways before they are killed. Let your heart go to these beings as well. Breath in their suffering and send healing to them.
As you continue with this practice, you will before long completely forget about you and your flu symptoms. You will completely forget about I, me and mine. You will begin to feel an intimate connection with all these beings. You will begin to realize you are not separate from a single one of them. In many cases, as you get better at this wonderful practice, you will notice that your flu symptoms seem to have vanished. And even if they have not, you feel wonderful. You feel connected to the entire world. You feel love, peace, freedom and happiness.
How did this happen? You didn’t do anything for yourself. You forgot about yourself. And yet here is this great love, peace, happiness and freedom from suffering.
Don’t take my word for it. You must do the practice and discover this for yourself.
Sometimes Bodhicitta is described as a ferryman ferrying beings across the river to the shore of enlightenment. The Bodhisattva is the ferryman. The concern of the Bodhisattva is for the enlightenment of others, of all beings. The ONLY reason the Bodhisattva seeks enlightenment is because it makes him or her a better vehicle for helping others. It makes him or her a better ferry operator. The interesting thing, and for a Bodhisattva it is unintentional, is that when the ferry reaches the shore of enlightenment, the ferryman, the Bodhisattva, is also there. And that’s how it works. In your desire to help other beings be happy and free from suffering, you find that you are happy and freed from suffering. The only way to be truly, fundamentally happy and free from suffering is enlightenment. And when you ferry those beings across to the shore of enlightenment, you are also enlightened, even if that wasn’t your intention.
What’s even more amazing is that without doing a single thing, simply setting your intention fully on liberating all other beings, you are already liberated. The mind of Bodhicitta IS the Enlightened Mind.
Acting in the World
When your mind becomes more attuned to Bodhicitta, you naturally act in the world in this way. You are no longer self-centered. There’s no more I, me or mine. You don’t feel separate from a single being in the entire world so it is only natural that you act for the benefit of all beings you encounter. If a snail is crawling across a busy sidewalk, you naturally pick it up and place it in the grass where it won’t be stepped on. Instead of killing insects in your house, you gently and lovingly carry them outside. I often find that when I have plans to do something for myself, at the last minute someone will call me with a question. I immediately drop my plans and might spend hours helping them. This may seem like a sacrifice, but it’s not. I benefit as much as they do from this. There is great happiness in serving, in benefiting others.
Giving and Receiving Are Not Two
Giving and receiving are not two separate things. I was surprised and grateful to discover this. We have no control over receiving. We can’t control whether anyone loves us. But we do control giving. We can give whenever we want. We can love whenever and whoever we want. Eventually we can learn to love all beings as this is our natural way. It is the way of Bodhicitta.
Because our conditioning is very self-serving, this may seem quite radical. But the truth is, if we truly want to help ourselves in the best way possible, help others.